'It's a girl!' Joyful, Dangerous Words

In the United States, hearing the words “it’s a girl,” is a cause for enormous joy and celebration for most people, said Rep. Chris Smith, Republican of New Jersey. “Today, the three most dangerous words in China and India are: It’s a girl,” Smith told a congressional hearing on Sept. 10.

Smith, the father of two boys and two girls, addressed the issues of sex-selective abortion, lopsided gender ratios and malnutrition among young females in India during a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Heath, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. Smith, the subcommittee chairperson, said tens of millions of women are missing in India as a result of sex-selective abortion and female infanticide. He said that in parts of India, 126 boys are born for every 100 girls.

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“Women have been systematically exterminated through sex-selection abortion,” Smith said. “It’s a deliberate and premeditated assault on women.”

Smith said India also has 37 million more men than women, according to the 2011 census. He said malnutrition of young girls is also common. According to Smith, girls below the age of 5 have a mortality rate that is 75 percent higher than boys of the same age. Smith said more than 160 million females, a figure higher than the current population of U.S. females, are missing from Asia’s population because of sex-selective abortions, but the problem is not limited to the Asian continent.

“In Azerbaijan and Armenia, in Eastern Europe, and even among some groups in the United States, couples are making sure at least one of their children is a son,” he said.

Matthew J. Connelly, professor of international and global history at Columbia University, said that by the 1960s India had long been a testing ground for population control. Connelly told the hearing that General Electric promoted the use of ultrasound machines in India and China.

But Sabu George, an independent researcher from the Indian state of Kerala, said sex selection has become genocide in the Indian context, despite a law prohibiting the use of ultrasound technology to determine a baby’s gender. George said the misuse of technology and lack of respect for Indian law led to high rates of abortion of female fetuses. He said that rate has increased in the past 30 years, and that doctors often are not prosecuted for administering illegal ultrasounds. “What is tragic is that people accept it,” he said.

Jill McElya, vice president of the Invisible Girl Project, based in Indianapolis, said she and her husband first became aware of infanticide in 2009, when they lived in a rural village in South India. She said in one village her husband visited, boys outnumbered girls eight to one.

McElya said the gender imbalance between men and women in India has resulted in problems like human trafficking, child marriage and violence toward women and girls. “When millions of men go unmarried because millions of potential brides have been killed, these single men are more inclined to purchase sex,” McElya said. “Because of the demand for sex workers and because large amounts of money can be made by brothel owners, girls and women are trafficked into the sex industry.”

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